IT MAY never be clear what happened to cause the tragic death of a Weymouth sailor, a coroner has said. The disappearance of Jeff Cole sparked a major search after he went missing aboard yacht Palamina last September.

Mr Cole, aged 61, had set off from Castle Cove Sailing Club heading towards Swanage but never arrived.

His yacht was found washed up on a beach in northern France and some weeks later his body was found off the Devon coast, an inquest heard. Although Mr Cole’s death was ruled as an accident, assistant coroner for Dorset Stephen Nicholls said the cause could not be determined.

A report by the French authorities suggested Mr Cole went overboard trying to free a trapped rope from the propeller, the coroner said.

But this was called in to question by Mr Cole’s brother-in-law David Nash, who said he would not have committed such ‘an act of extreme folly’. He said Mr Cole appeared to have been relaxing before he died, as his boots were found inside the cabin.

He said the family believe the accident happened at St Aldhem’s – the last known location Mr Cole was aboard the yacht.

Mr Nash said it was clear ‘something happened quickly’ but ‘what that was, we will never know’.

Mr Nicholls agreed, adding: “Having looked at the evidence from the French authority, I am not sure that is the only conclusion that one could come to in the circumstances.

“There are potentially a number of issues which may have arisen – possibly a change in conditions which required Mr Cole to deal with the sails, possibly some issue with the dinghy.

“From the evidence that’s available, it is not clear precisely what happened on the occasion which led to Mr Cole going into the water.”

Mr Cole’s family praised the emergency services that assisted in the lengthy and difficult recovery of his body.

In a statement after the hearing, they said: “The inquest is satisfactory – no surprises and all makes sense.

“We wish to send thanks again to all the amazing emergency services involved in bringing Jeff back home to us so we could have a funeral.

“Time for closure and to remember the good times.”